Gareth Southgate has hinted at reluctance to extend his contract beyond the Qatar World Cup, saying he does not want to overstay his welcome after England's heartbreaking defeat on penalties against Italy in the final of Euro 2020.
Southgate is under contract until the World Cup, which begins in November 2022, and Mark Bullingham, the Football Association's chief executive, has made clear that he wants to extend the England manager's deal until the 2024 European Championship in Germany.
The FA’s desire to keep Southgate has been strengthened by England’s run to their first major men’s final in 55 years. On Monday, however, the 50-year-old remained cagey over his future, saying he needed a rest after his side were beaten on penalties by Italy at Wembley and revealing he needed to think before committing to a long-term deal.
“I don’t think now is an appropriate time to think about anything,” Southgate said. “We’ve got to qualify for Qatar. I need some time to go away, watch the game again, reflect on the whole tournament. I need a rest. It’s an amazing experience but to lead your country in these tournaments takes its toll. I need a break now. I said at the time it was great to have that internal support. You hugely value that as a manager.
“But there is also a lot to think through. It’s not about finance in any way or commitment. I don’t want to commit to anything longer than I should, and I never want to outstay my welcome. So, all of those things need consideration before even thinking about sitting down and talking. As I sit here today, I would want to be taking the team to Qatar.”
Southgate, who could be tempted to return to management after the World Cup, believes England remain on the right path despite falling short in the final. They reached the last four of the 2018 World Cup, the semi-finals of the Nations League in 2019 and were close to beating Italy.
“I feel that we have made progress over the four years,” Southgate said. “We’ve had a fourth place, a third place and a second place. It’s probably as good as any other team in Europe, bar those who have won the tournaments themselves. For consistency, it is right up there.
“A lot of things we have done right and we know this team is not at its peak yet. But that doesn’t guarantee winning because we know how difficult it is to get back to the stage we got to on Sunday. That is why it is so painful to get so close.”
England have a crop of talented youngsters but Southgate refused to talk up their chances of becoming world champions in Qatar. His focus is on qualification. England are top of their group after winning their first three games and will get back to work when they play qualifiers against Hungary, Andorra and Poland in September.
“When you’re in sport and you get to finals, you know that those opportunities are so rare and to be so close and to know what that’s taken and to know you’ve got to pick yourself up and go again that’s very hard the day after,” Southgate said.
“You’ve given everything and the energy levels are low and the emotions are drained. We will go again of course but sometimes it’s easy to say things like: ‘Oh, we can go on to Qatar now and win.’ It’s a bit glib, really. That’s a long journey, we’ve still got to qualify, we’ve still got steps to take.”
Southgate condemned the racist abuse aimed at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after the trio missed penalties during the shootout against Italy.
“For some of them to be abused is unforgivable really,” he said. “I know a lot has come from abroad. People who track those things have been able to explain that. But not all of it. And it’s just not what we stand for. We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together.”